Remember the Sylvester Stallone vehicle JUDGE DREDD from the nineties? No? Well, don't worry. I don't think many do. As a refresher, it was bad. Like, so bad it's good. . . But still, not good. . . Make sense? It was a headed by an insipid story, boring bits of action and off-screen violence, and even had Rob Schneider. . . Yeah, Rob Schneider as an obnoxious foil to DREDD who "hilariously" commented on everything that happened in the film (surprised?). It was a disaster. Understandably, public interest for DREDD was crushed by this cinematic abortion (if it was even high to begin with) and landmarked itself as a comic-to-movie folly akin to TANK GIRL. After many a year, however, director Pete Travis has dusted off the judge, jury and executioner and prepped him for another go. And you know what? This time, it actually comes together. For the most part. . .
Upon the discovery of three, skinned bodies splattered across the neo-pavement of Mega-City's "Peach Tree" complex, DREDD and his rookie, ANDERSON, learn of a new drug deemed, "Slow-Mo" which (as it sounds) slows the user's perception of reality (really, it's just an excuse for some truly kickass looking sequences--that's it). And who's to blame for these murders and the new drug's distribution? A merciless gang leader known as "Mama". To quarantine the recent threat of Judge DREDD and his protégé, Mama closes her building off to the outside world and forces DREDD to fight his way up to her, floor by floor.
In all honesty, DREDD 3D is like a futuristic version of THE RAID: REDEMPTION. Both involve a drug lord, both involve a task force, both involve our protagonists moving from floor-to-floor of a high-rise, and hell, they both even have a tension-filled moment in which the heroes hide in a random room while villainous roustabouts walk on by. The comparisons are numerous (and strange considering they were both in production at nearly the same times) and impossible to overlook, but DREDD nonetheless makes it work. While THE RAID: REDEMPTION is a far superior film, but DREDD delivers its formula with a wreckless, balls-to-the-wall fervor, so much in fact, that it's easy to forgive its copycat similarities because of how honestly energetic the entire experience is. They weren't trying to create a Mona Lisa-style movie, the filmmakers were trying to make a simple, mindlessly brutal endeavor to coincide with the viciousness of the comic-book character himself. And really, when compared to the 90's version, this adaption is a masterpiece.
Where DREDD succeeds is, of course, its violence (didn't see that coming, eh?). Throughout the course of the quickly-paced ninety minutes of arterial spray, I think I mustered at least five deep man-chuckles. You know the kind, where something hilariously gruesome occurs on-screen, like, say, our hero crushing a villain's windpipe with a single blow or a "High EX" round decapitating a sorry sap in an explosion of spark and grue. I'd say about 75% of the carnage herein works, the other 25% is just lazy. While one shoot-out might be a beautiful display of visual prowess and slow-motion blood-spilling, the next might be an incredibly by-the-numbers bullet ballet in which NOTHING memorable actually happens. And then the next bit of slow-motion eye candy adorns the screen and one forgets that the last bit of gunplay was incredibly flaccid. If not for a final, jaw-droppingly gorgeous death scene, even the finale would have felt limp.
And this entire adaption would have been for naught had its lead, DREDD his'self, been miscast. Thankfully, that's not at all the case here. While I had my doubts, Karl Urban is f*cking fantastic as the man behind the helmet. His permanent scowl is utterly complimentary to the manuscript version and his gravel-throated parlance is humorously gritty. While many of his lines are purposefully comical in a deadpan way, I couldn't help but giggle every time he opened his mouth and allow a handful of words to squeeze between his clenched teeth. DREDD is such a fun character to watch and listen to, that I find it fantastic that Travis and co. were in on the joke. They weren't trying to create the next ostentatious Batman of the future with an outrageously ludicrous growl; they were trying to present a character true to his campy yet savage origins. From the comical way he states, "Mama. . . JUDGEMENT TIME." to the surprisingly abrupt way he throws a man's flailing body from a high-rise, I was utterly enthralled with this vision of DREDD's world and Urban's depiction of such an antihero. Also, props to such an actor as Urban for being humble enough to refrain from showing his face throughout the entire picture. And on the topic of characterization, I also have to give mad kudos to Olivia Thirlby's, Anderson; the rookie following DREDD into the heart of darkness. While it would have been easy to establish her as a weak point--a female in constant need of salvation--writer Alex Garland (of 28 DAYS LATER fame) actually gives her a soul and purpose. Not once does she beckon DREDD for aid, but understands when she needs to buck-up, stand tall and put some psychopaths down. Even a bit of head-games began with the audience laughing at its corniness, but ended with everyone clapping for Anderson's bit of mind-f*cking.
While DREDD wasn't the perfect idea of mindlessly exploitive mayhem I would have hoped for, it's nonetheless entertaining in a very primal way. For the most part, DREDD delivers in a fantastically unpretentious way; it knows exactly the sort of film it is and never pretends to be anything more than an energetically gruesome expose of exquisitely shot violence. Sure, the action becomes occasionally blasé and some of the writing is embarrassingly bad at points--even beyond the "so-bad-it's-good" level " (just wait for the, "WAIT!" line), but DREDD still delivers on what it set out to do. It's mindless. It's grisly. It's evocatively shot. It's an honest realization of a classic character. DREDD may not be as polished as it should have been, but I'm already stoked for a possible sequel. To sum up my critique, I'll quote one of DREDD's final, most concise lines of the film. . .
Give me a second while I clear my throat and prepare for a hoarse mimicking of his voice. . .
"YEAH. . ."
Yup. Think that sums everything up.